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Police don’t shoot to kill

By   /   November 12, 2009  /   Comments

In last week’s week’s Albany Journal, in the “WhatchaSay Albany?” section, there is some discussion regarding a police officer not “shooting to kill”. I wanted to address this a bit, as I feel I’m somewhat qualified to do so.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about police and the term “shoot to kill”. In the most recent case of an officer involved shooting, there are many people who argue that the cop didn’t have to “shoot to kill”, and that he shouldn’t have. They argue that had he not “shot to kill”, that there wouldn’t be a family mourning the death of a loved one.

First, police don’t “shoot to kill”, and this officer more than likely didn’t in this case, either. Instead, they do what is called “shooting to stop”. The primary purpose is to stop an aggressive act with a firearm. Now, where does an officer aim when he’s “shooting to stop”? The torso or the head.

What’s that you say? That’s where they “shoot to kill”? Not entirely. You see, the handgun is a small, easily portable weapon that is nowhere near the power of the bazooka. Many, many people survive being shot with a handgun. The current weapon issues to the APD is the SW99 .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun. The reason caliber is written with a decimal in front is that’s the fraction of an inch that the round is across. In other words, a .40 caliber round is .4 inches wide.

Now, for those keeping score at home, that’s less than half an inch and while it’s moving at supersonic speeds, it’s not a guaranteed kill. However, it does tend to tear up bone and tissue along it’s path through the human body. This causes pain, which often stops the fight. Hence, the officer has “shot to stop” successfully.

However, sometimes, the bone and tissue damage is the kind that can kill. But you know what happens to the aggressive act? It’s stopped. You see, shooting to stop can result in death. However, that’s not the goal. The goal is to stop an aggressive act and save innocent lives.

Now, there are many out there who say “why couldn’t he have shot her in the arm or something?” That’s a fair question, and there’s a lot of reasons why.

First, the arm is what I call a “low percentage shot”. The arm is a small target, and it’s the most likely to be moving, making it an extremely difficult shot. Even the legs are difficult shots for similar reasons. Torso shots are what I call “high percentage shots”. The torse makes up the larges single point on a human body, and it’s relatively stationary compared to the rest of the body. While it may be moving, it’s far less likely to jitter and jive all over the place like an arm or leg. Basically, it’s an easier shot.

But that’s not all.

You see, the major reason in my mind why you don’t shoot to wound is that a wounded person can still fight. If you shoot someone in the arm, they may stop the fight…or they may fight harder. They are still fully capable of killing you or some other innocent person. However, with the “shooting to stop” mentality, while you may wound someone (gunfights aren’t as easy as they look in the movies), you know you may have to keep fighting.

Shooting to kill isn’t something a sane and rational person does. But shooting to stop an aggressive act is. That shooting to stop can, and often does, result in the death of an aggressive criminal actor is secondary. People should keep that in mind the next time there is an officer involved shooting. Those cops are just trying to protect innocent lives…and if that means killing the violent ones, then so be it.

tomknightonWritten by Tom Knighton. Read his blog at SWGA Politics.com. A lifelong political junkie, Tom started out his adult life as a journalism major at Darton College before leaving school to serve his nation as a U.S. Navy Corpsman. Through the years, he has watched government from outside and inside. A former Reagan supporter, then later a Democrat, Tom now finds himself quite comfortable as a card carrying Libertarian and all around smart-elec.

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  • Published: 2117 days ago on November 12, 2009
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  • Last Modified: November 7, 2009 @ 2:21 pm
  • Filed Under: Tom Knighton
  • Tagged With: crime, police


  1. Thanks so much, Jason. It indeed was a good piece!

  2. Jason says:

    Alright! I don’t often read positive articles like this when it comes to handguns. Too many people don’t understand the reasons and responsibilities that come with carrying a firearm. I carry concealed on a daily basis; it’s refreshing to hear the media get it right for a change.

    1. Tom says:


      As the writer of this piece, I wanted to say thanks for the kind words. For the record, I carry myself and am the son of a police officer. I’m not your average “media” ;)

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